Hywel Rhodri Morgan (29 September 1939 – 17 May 2017)
Rhodri Morgan was a truly exceptional man who has made an indelible mark on Wales. Today Wales has not just lost a great politician, we have lost a real father figure. The thoughts and deepest sympathies of all of us are with Julie – his wife, my colleague – and all of the family at this time.
As first minister – or rather first secretary as it was then – at a pivotal point in the birth of our new devolved democracy Rhodri became both the founding father of devolution and the modern father of the nation. Rhodri did so much to fight for, and then establish, devolution in the hearts and minds of the public.
Devolution in Wales had a somewhat stuttering start, however, Rhodri embedded the devolution settlement in Wales and he demonstrated in practice how the new powers could make difference to our people, our communities and our country.
From overseeing the abolition of prescription charges to keeping our NHS in Wales free from private sector involvement and the roll out of the ‘foundation phase’ in primary schools, Rhodri’s now infamous ‘clear red water’ served to define a different way of doing things in Wales. It paved the way for the distinct Welsh Labour party and policies that we see so clearly today. He demonstrated an intuitive ability to adapt to changing times and circumstances whilst remaining true to our principles and progressive values. A lesson that leaves a legacy of enduring government in Wales.
That Rhodri was funny, clever and engaging is in no doubt. He was able to connect with people in a way that most politicians can only dream of. Perhaps this is because he was not like other politicians.
On Wales and the Conservatives, he once said: ‘The Tories’ relationship with Wales is based on trust and understanding. We don’t trust them and they don’t understand us’. Regardless of how the popularity of leaders ebbs and flows, this remains fundamentally true.
Rhodri on the other hand was a uniquely gifted politician with the greatest integrity, able to relate to everyone he met – indeed he was known out and about across the nation to many as simply ‘our Rhodri’.
I did not have the privilege of serving alongside Rhodri in our National Assembly for Wales but it is because of the work he led in forging the Welsh Labour way and championing the difference devolution can really make to people’s lives, that a new generation – myself included – took the decision to stand to serve our communities and to serve our country as Welsh Labour assembly members.
I am proud today to be a part of a modern democracy, in which Rhodri was so instrumental in its inception.
I have heard many fond memories and reminisces today following the sad new of Rhodri’s passing. The tale that I have always enjoyed is that when Rhodri convinced Tony Blair of the aforementioned title change. What was not made clear to the then prime minister of the United Kingdom is that the Welsh – Prif Weinidog – actually translates to ‘prime minister’.
Indeed he was our prime minister of Wales, our Welsh Labour leader, our Rhodri. He will rightly be remembered as a towering figure in Welsh history.
Diolch Rhodri, Diolch yn fawr.
Hannah Blythyn is member of the Welsh assembly for Delyn. She tweets @hannahblythyn
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